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State v. Mathis

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 20, 2019

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
DOUGLAS MARSHALL MATHIS

          Session October 16, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Houston County No. 4352 Larry Wallace, Judge

         Petitioner, Douglas Marshall Mathis, appeals the denial of both his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 and his motion to withdraw his original, pro se petition for post-conviction relief, which was granted in 2001. Because Petitioner failed to state a colorable claim for relief and because the life sentence imposed for his first degree murder conviction is legal, we affirm the denial of his Rule 36.1 motion. Because Petitioner's original petition for post-conviction relief was heard and granted nearly two decades ago, we affirm the denial of Petitioner's motion to withdraw that petition.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Karen McDonald, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Douglas Marshall Mathis.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General; Bryant C. Dunaway, District Attorney General; and Owen Burnette, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert L. Holloway, Jr., and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE

         Twenty years ago, the Houston County Grand Jury charged Petitioner with one count of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder for the May 11, 1999 killing of Selwyn Ward. On May 18, 2000, Petitioner entered a plea of guilty to the charge of second degree murder in exchange for a 15-year sentence and dismissal of the first degree murder charge. See State v. Douglas Marshall Mathis, No. M2002-02291-CCA-R3-CD, 2004 WL 392710, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 3, 2004) (Mathis I), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 11, 2004); Douglas Marshall Mathis v. State, No. M2006-02525-CCA-R3-PC, 2008 WL 1850800, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 25, 2008) (Mathis II), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 27, 2008).

         On May 9, 2001, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, seeking to set aside his guilty plea on grounds that it was not knowingly and voluntarily entered. After the State agreed that Petitioner should be granted relief, the post-conviction court vacated Petitioner's conviction of second degree murder and set Petitioner's case for trial on the charge of first degree murder. See Mathis II, 2008 WL 1850800, at *1. The transcript of the hearing on Petitioner's petition establishes that the post-conviction court repeatedly warned Petitioner that, should the court grant him the relief he desired, he would go to trial on a charge of first degree murder and that he would be facing a life sentence. Nevertheless, Petitioner persisted in his demand that his second degree murder conviction be set aside. Neither party appealed the decision granting post-conviction relief. Following a 2002 trial, a Houston County Circuit Court jury convicted Petitioner of first degree murder, and the trial court imposed the only statutorily-available sentence of life imprisonment. See Mathis I, 2004 WL 392710, at *1.

         On direct appeal, Petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the convicting evidence, the accuracy of the trial court's instructions to the jury, the propriety of the prosecutor's closing argument, the impartiality of the jurors that tried the case, and the admission of certain evidence. See id. Petitioner did not challenge the grant of his petition for post-conviction relief or the validity of the presentment charging him with first degree murder. Ultimately, a majority of this Court affirmed Petitioner's first degree murder conviction. See id. at *10.

         Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief from his first degree murder conviction in June 2005, alleging, among other things, that "he was not prosecuted on a valid first degree murder indictment." Mathis II, 2008 WL 1850800, at *6. Essentially, Petitioner claimed "that the trial court discharged him with regard to the first degree murder indictment in a nolle prosequi order entered pursuant to his prior guilty plea to second degree murder" and "that the State should have completed a formal proceeding to reinstate his indictment."[1] Id. at *7. In its order denying post-conviction relief, the post-conviction court observed that "Petitioner was specifically advised that the result of granting [his 2001 post-conviction petition] would be that he would be tried for First Degree Murder. Petitioner stated that he understood this and persisted in his request to vacate his plea of guilty to Second Degree Murder." The post-conviction court also found that, when Petitioner's plea was set aside, the State's agreement to dismiss the first degree murder charge was also set aside. This Court concluded that Petitioner waived his post-conviction challenge to the validity of the presentment by failing to present the issue either prior to trial or on direct appeal. Id. at *8. We also determined that, waiver notwithstanding, Petitioner was not entitled to post-conviction relief because the nolle prosequi on the first degree murder charge was conditioned upon Petitioner's pleading guilty to second degree murder such that, when Petitioner withdrew his guilty plea, "the trial court acted properly in reinstating the indictment for first degree murder." Id.

         Following this Court's decision affirming the denial of post-conviction relief, Petitioner filed his first petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the 2001 grant of post-conviction relief from his conviction of second degree murder was not valid "because the post-conviction court failed to make the proper finding 'that a constitutional violation occurred during the plea proceedings.'" Douglas Marshall Mathis v. State, No. M2010-00730-CCA-R3-HC, 2011 WL 300143, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 19, 2011) (Mathis III), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 26, 2011). He argued that without making a finding that a constitutional violation had occurred, "the post-conviction court was not authorized to vacate his plea and conviction and retry him on the first degree murder charge" and insisted that "his guilty plea to second degree murder with the fifteen-year sentence be reinstated." Id. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the petition, holding that Petitioner had failed to establish "that his judgment is void or that he is being illegally detained." The habeas corpus court also noted that Petitioner did not appeal the 2001 grant of post-conviction relief and observed that Petitioner had filed the petition for writ of habeas corpus "because he did not receive the outcome he had desired in a full and lawful jury trial." Id. This Court affirmed the summary dismissal of the petition because Petitioner failed to comply with the procedural requirements for filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus. We also

agree[d] with the habeas corpus court that Petitioner's best, and possibly only, avenue of relief would have been to appeal the 2001 judgment of the post-conviction court, not to wait almost nine years until the new trial he admittedly actively sought produced an ...

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